DC mayor Muriel Bowser takes on Trump, sparks Third Amendment debate with call to remove troops from capital

The Third Amendment is one of the least debated constitutional provisions that bars quartering troops at homes without owners' consent in times of peace

                            DC mayor Muriel Bowser takes on Trump, sparks Third Amendment debate with call to remove troops from capital
Muriel Bowser and Trump (Getty Images)

The countrywide protests over the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month has seen an unprecedented twist with Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser sparking debate over invoking the Constitution’s Third Amendment to kick military troops out of the capital. Massive troops were mobilized to deal with the protesters in the national capital after President Donald Trump threatened to use military force against them. But his plan was met with backlash both from the country’s civilian and military leaders. 

At a press conference on Thursday, June 4, Bowser said: “The very first thing is we want the military -- we want troops from out-of-state out of Washington, DC”, sparking the constitutional debate. The 47-year-old mayor, also an African-American, has been at loggerheads with the federal authorities led by Trump over controlling Washington’s streets ever since an email from a military planner alerted her office. On Wednesday, June 3, the military official sought guidance for the US Northern Command in determining “route restrictions” for the “movement of tactical vehicles” and “military forces” from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, into the capital city to assist in the “Civil Disobedience Operations”, according to a Washington Post report. For Bowser’s office, this meant an immediate escalation in the federal troops Trump sought to quell the street protests near the White House. It was just days ago that the president accused Bowser on Twitter of refusing to allow DC police to chip in for controlling the crowd in Lafayette Square.  

Troops arrive at the Joint Force Headquarters of the DCNational Guard on June 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

Even as the military leadership decided to reverse the plan to remove the troops out of the city, more than 4,500 National Guard members remained deployed to DC on Thursday, June 4. Several states, including Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, sent their Guard troops after Defense Secretary Mark Esper requested.

While the Guard remained the only military force to operate in the national capital, Bowser doesn’t have the authority over the DC National Guard which operates under the command of the army secretary, CNN reported. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said on Wednesday, June 3, that Maryland National Guard troops that he sent to DC were assigned with the task of guarding the national monuments but Bowser said she had no such words with Hogan and hence couldn’t approve of the mission. 

Bowser’s decision to remove troops has faced criticism from Republicans like Utah Senator Mike Lee, who tweeted on June 4: “Just heard that Mayor Bowser is kicking the Utah National Guard out of all DC hotels tomorrow. More than 1200 troops from 10 states are being evicted. This is unacceptable.”

The Third Amendment, which is among the least debated chapters of the American Constitution, has suddenly come to life after Bowser’s warning. What exactly is the amendment?

History of the Third Amendment

The Third Amendment (1791) to the US Constitution -- a part of the Bill of Rights -- bars involuntary quartering of troops in private homes. Although the provision has never come under direct scrutiny of the Supreme Court, its core principles were among the most salient ones at the time of the country’s foundation. It was relevant prior to the American Revolution (1775-83) when the British, under the leadership of King George III, backed the idea of standing armies in colonies with soldiers staying in private residences. This military presence in the civilian space boosted America’s opposition to the British colonizers and saw Thomas Jefferson slamming King George III in the Declaration of Independence. When the Constitution was ratified, the amendment received wide support to put an end to the practice of keeping troops at residential homes at the time of peace.

Unlike the Second Amendment which has continued to see wide debate over time, the Third Amendment remained a quiet piece of the law of the land. The full text of the Third Amendment reads: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

The social media though was divided over the idea of invoking the Third Amendment. While some said it is not the mayor but the owners of the hotels who have the authority to decide on accommodating troops, others debated whether the hotels where the troops have been quartered can be qualified as homes. There were also people who supported Bowser for taking a strong call to remove the stationed troops from the capital.